I’ve been curating my little corner of the internet for six years now; that’s quite a few years in internet time! Throughout those years I’ve received a ton of questions- as comments, as emails, and from people who spot me on the street, but no matter where they come from, my top frequently asked question is:
“Are you vegan?”
The frequency is understandable. Looking at my life one might assume that I am vegan- I am a yoga instructor, an animal lover, and scrolling down my Instagram feed there is a *lot* of green. But contrary to common assumption, I’m not vegan or vegetarian, though I have tried to become both, instead I am what I call a ‘flexitarian.’ I’m fully aware that to a lot of people that sounds very ‘millennial trying to be cool’ but for me the Merriam Webster definition hits it right on the head: ‘one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish’. I am mostly plant based, it is good for me, good for the environment, and good for the animals, but without meat I get sick. I have tried supplements and different diets and it turns out this perpetually anemic body (since childhood) requires animal protein- it is just the way I am, biologically.
That being said, I am very particular about the meat that I consume. I care about where it sourced from, how the animals are treated as they are being raised, the quality of the meat, and the quality of preparation. In this first installation of my ‘Flexitarian with Compassion’ series I’m going to focus on eating out. It is a bit harder to know where exactly where your meat is coming from when you’re glancing at a menu instead of sourcing material in your local grocery store, but I’ll add in a few tips and my three favorite sustainable restaurants here in Denver, Colorado that focus on quality ingredients and great service.
Flexitarian with Compassion: Denver Restaurant Recommendations
I had the opportunity throughout the last few months to do some very tasty research while selecting restaurants for this post. It started out with word of mouth recommendations by friends, fellow bloggers, and contacts I know in the marketing world, followed by research online- making sure that the places I were choosing had the sustainable food backgrounds I was looking for- and then to actual taste tests. Some restaurants I popped into on my own, and some I was invited to after having heard about my series. [Full disclosure- none of this is sponsored, but I was gifted meals at restaurants, but didn’t guarantee coverage! All opinions in this post are completely my own.] The following three restaurants top my list of favorites in Denver, and the first, is quite possibly my favorite restaurant I have visited in the United States. And coming from a foodie? That’s a HUGE deal!
If you were to make a list of everything you wanted in a sustainable restaurant and bring it in to Vesta on Blake street here in Denver you’d tick off the whole list and then some. On their website, they describe Vesta (named after the Roman goddess of the hearth) as ‘serving bold, sexy food from a menu that embraces seasonal, fresh ingredients.’ And I would wholeheartedly agree.
Vesta’s menu is created by Executive Chef Nicholas Kayser, whose cool, confident charm makes me believe that he would feel right at home both at an elegant dinner party and on the back of a motorcycle, leather and all. This intriguing combination of confidence and ‘je ne sais quoi’ translates well into the artistry of his food. He pairs deep, rustic flavors with beautifully nuanced accoutrements and stunning plating to elevate the dining experience to something I can only explain as sensual. Enveloped by the warmth of low lighting and wine-buzzed patrons (or in my case, absinthe- the Weekend at Bernie’s cocktail is a must-try) and surrounded by earthy textures that dampen sound and enhance ambiance, you feel both comfortable and moved by the slightly exotic feel of the space. Vesta would be perfect for a very impressive first date, for hosting friends and family from out of town, or to gather with friends for happy hour at their well-stocked bar. My dining companion, a friend in from New York City, has already requested that we return next time he’s in town.
Lamb Photo by: Kari Cummings
And now that we’ve gotten my rather obvious chef-crush on Chef Nicholas out of the way, we can move on to sustainability. One of the main things I look for on a menu when deciding where to head out to dinner is where ingredients are sourced. When restaurants take the time to seek out quality ingredients both plant-based and animal-based from local sources they are not only supporting local commerce, but they are choosing products that have a smaller environmental impact from those that need to be shipped in from afar. In Vesta’s case, they have an entire page on their website dedicated to their local purveyors- from spirits and beer to micro greens and meats, Vesta focuses on local growers and the freshness and quality shows in each of their dishes. Restaurants who pride themselves on sustainability generally love to share that pride with their customers and their suppliers- when you’re looking for a restaurant if they are focused on the environment, they’ll tell you!
Duck by: Anna Regan
While dining, Chef caught my attention as I was meandering back to my table and invited me down to his meat closet in the lower level of the restaurant, (which I promise is just that!) and there he explained his creative process of personally making some of the charcuterie that ends up on diners’ plates. The smell was incredible, part earth and notes of a cheese cave that I’ve visited in France, and part animal, reminiscent of bacon slow roasting in the morning. The passion with which Chef spoke about his creative endeavors truly honors the animals he is processing, each step of his creations gives homage to the life of each animal, and the reverence with which he speaks about his sourced ingredients makes an animal lover like me know that I made the correct choice when it came to where to eat.
A few other fun tidbits on sustainability at Vesta:
- They source 100% clean wind power for every kilowatt-hour used.
- They’ve switched to paper straws that are compostable and marine degradable.
- They recycle their fryer oil.
- They support non-profits and have a donation request form on their website!
As you can see, a solid 600+ words later, I clearly have a favorite restaurant in Denver, and I highly, highly recommend it.
And while Vesta is most definitely my number one, I have two runner ups! Old Major for lunch and dinner in the Highlands, and Urban Farmer for brunch downtown.
Old Major’s pride and joy is its chef and and owner Chef Justin Brunson. He proudly calls himself a farm boy from Iowa, and his upbringing shows through in the preparation of his food. He showcases sustainable, local meats’ flavors in fresh, clean plates using local, seasonal ingredients to make elevated comfort food. Old Major boasts an in-house butchery and charcuterie program (there is a glass curing cabinet that is a beautiful feature of the restaurant) that allows Chef Brunson to both experiment with flavor and texture and teach patrons the art of great meat preparation.
Old Major Photos shot by New Denizen
Old Major has a ‘neighborhood joint’ feel despite its incredibly well curated decor. With a bar menu that’s second to none on game days and a brunch menu complete with cocktails that will make you want to make afternoon out of it- it is a wonderful restaurant to ‘hang out’ in on a beautiful sunny Denver day- grab a couple of friends, a few cocktails, and a heaping portion of pork fat french fries and you’ll be a happy little critter with a full belly!
Urban Farmer was a restaurant I just stumbled upon in downtown Denver and was intrigued by the micro greens growing in the window. Turns out it was a great place to pop in for brunch! Stocked with house preserved produce and pickles, a full DIY bloody Mary bar, and crowned with its very own rooftop beehives, Urban Farmer lives up to its name! Committed to a ranch-to-table menu UF changes its offerings with the seasons and grows a portion of its own food in house- the table side mushroom terrarium is a must see on weekend nights!
But aside from great food one of my favorite things about UF is that on its website it actually links to their monthly composting and recycling reports that breakdown the restaurant’s monthly energy saved, carbon output, and other sustainable programs. I love that you can see in actual numbers how they are focused on making the dining experience one that both you and the environment can enjoy!
I’d love to know, which are your favorite restaurants in your city that focus on sustainability and environmental causes? I love that we have such an incredible selection of restaurants to choose from here in Denver that make me feel good about eating out. But when it comes to sustainable meat, it doesn’t stop at restaurants. In the coming months, I’ll be adding more editions of Flexitarian with Compassion posts- diving deeper into the world of sustainable meat, from grocery shopping to farm visits and explaining the ‘Step-by-Step’ levels of animal welfare by the Global Animal Partnership. So keep your eye out for more!